REVIEW: Gotham: The Complete First Season
Gotham arrived amidst a ton of hoopla and promised to be a fresh look at the intervening years between the deaths of Martha and Thomas Wayne and their son Bruce’s debut as Batman. Rich, fertile territory to explore, ripe for drama. What we were offered instead, was a hodge-podge of warmed over cop retreads and overstuffed with criminals who have no business operating in Gotham during this period. You can see this for yourself on the just-released Gotham: The Complete First Season from Warner Bros Home Entertainment.
It became fairly quickly after the promising pilot episode that the series was going to pay no attention whatsoever to the canonical material published by DC Comics. At best, they borrowed names and places and affixed them to characters they wanted to use, ignoring what made them work for the last 75 years.
Gotham is a dark, depressing place, rife with corruption, an ineffectual police department and too few citizens willing to fight to save their city. It appears the lone exception is James W. Gordon (Ben McKenzie), the only good cop on the GCPD. Everyone else apparently is in the pocket of Carmine Falcone (John Doman), Sal Maroni (David Zayas), or their underbosses. Over the course of the 22 episodes, we see little variation in this so when even heinous crimes are committed, Gordon stands in police HQ, doing his best to rally the troops and gets stared at.
His captain, Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara), has given up and his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), is slowly climbing out of the criminal pocket, shaking his head in disbelief that he is actually coming over to see things Gordon’s way.
Gordon doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself. When he’s forced to kill Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), he fakes the man’s death (which we all see coming back to bite him, and fast) the word is out that he’s now one of “them”. Rather than use it to his advantage, he lets it gnaw at him. He refuses to share with his fiancée, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and here, the producers appear to have added one supporting player too many. It took most of the season to conclude the producers had no idea what to do with her other than give her a former affair with Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena). She’s now in the looney bin which is shame since she winds up marrying Gordon in the comics.
Meantime, young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is being raised solely by Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) and the withdrawn, sullen 12 year old is trying train his body in fits and starts, using his already-keen mind to figure out who may have killed his parents, a trail that leads him to the deadly board of directors at Wayne Enterprises. He is also on the cusp of adulthood and can’t figure out his feelings for the fascinating street urchin and thief Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).
In the first season alone, producers Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon have given us Catwoman, Penguin, Mr. Szasz (Anthony Carrigan), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Tommy Elliot (Cole Vallis), the Electrocutioner (Christopher Heyerdahl), the Scarecrow (Charlie Tahan), the Dollmaker (Colm Feore), the Ogre (Milo Ventimiglia), and maybe even the Joker. And we’re promised even more villains in the second season starting September 21.
The addition of Fish Mooney, a little too on the nose of a name, improves the male/female ratio but she is also a stock character without much to differentiate her although it is interesting to see Jada Pinkett Smith play against type. Her story arc was destined to end up short-lived but she was also given some of the most interesting material to work with.
So, Gordon remains the seemingly lone voice of reason in a city spiraling around the drain. He tells young Bruce that there is always hope and their budding relationship will inevitably lead the detective to figure out who the new dark knight is 13 years from now. The series, to be successful, has to tread that delicate line between utter defeat making Batman a necessity and Gordon a failure.
As a result, the show is a mess. Oddly, though, it’s a compelling mess that you keep coming back to check in and see if they’ve figured things out yet. The acting goes from square-jawed and wooden to outlandishly bad and caricatured. The writing is tedious and melodramatic, robbing interesting characters from saying interesting things. We’re told in the pilot that Thomas Wayne and Falcone both loved Gotham and were fighting, in their own ways, to preserve it. A great premise that went absolutely nowhere all season.
For a moody and atmospheric show, it has a dull color palette which transfers nicely to high definition disc. The combo pack comes with just four Blu-ray discs and a Digital HD code. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video presentation makes a bad show lovely to look at. Coupled with a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track you can hear it all.
The set comes with handful of average Special Features, starting with Gotham Invented (32:00), a three-part (“Building Our Gotham,” “Paving the Way for the Caped Crusader” and “Fractured Villains.”) behind-the-scenes look at how to study then ignore the source material; Designing the Fiction (20:00), a look at the process of making the city unique and timeless; The Game of Cobblepot (26:00), a profile on Robin Lord Taylor, one of the most arresting things about the series; The Legend Reborn (22:00), looking at the pilot’s shoot; DC Comics Night: Comic-Con 2014 (30:00): Gotham, Arrow and The Flash; Character Profiles (14:00), examining Jim Gordon, Oswald Cobblepot, Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Harvey Bullock, Fish Mooney, Dr. Leslie Thompkins and Killer Characters; Unaired Scenes (7:00); and finally, the Gag Reel (5:00).